Posts Tagged ‘Bystanders’

Report Shows that Anti-Bullying Programs Actually Cause Bullying

October 10, 2013


It’s so easy to read a report that claims that anti-bullying programs actually increases incidents of bullying and throw your hands up in despair. But the truth is, that it isn’t the principle of teaching such skills to our students that is the problem it is the strength of the material and how its core messages are backed up within the school culture.

A major issue for school anti-bullying programs are that they are conducted in the classroom. The classroom in many cases has a stigma and therefore it is hard to find a program that doesn’t feel like more schoolwork. Additionally, many such programs feel preachy, saccharine and completely out of touch with the lives and interests of the student population. Lastly, teaching students to value and respect others is extremely difficult to pull off in an environment where many students feel undervalued and disrespected. How do you get students to respect others when they have trouble respecting themselves?

In other words, it is the range of programs that is to blame, not the principle of teaching children how to treat each other. That’s why I was fortunate in 2011 to discover what I believe to be the most refreshing, innovative and groundbreaking addition to what has become a tired and listless genre. A series of anti-bullying films entitled How to UnMake a Bully is, from my experience, able to speak to school aged children in a way nothing I have come accross ever has. Amongst other important life skills, it focuses on strategies for supporting victims of bullying, helping bullies change, empowering bystanders, reacting to low and high grade bullying scenarios, creating a schoolyard united stance on bullying, respecting others and ones self and adapting to change. My love for these movies and the way in which my students have responded to them have made a world of difference to my students’ lives and actions. So much so, that their fan letters and a subsequent Skype session with the cast and crew led to their participation in one of the upcoming films in this extraordinary series.

Instead of feeling despondent about anti-bullying programs, please watch these films (which I have posted below for your convenience) with your students. It will entertain and move them, whilst also setting a framework for increased communication, awareness and overall empowerment.



Punishments Handed to Children Who Bullied Bus Monitor. Now What?

July 1, 2012

The school probably thinks the saga has ended. It hasn’t. This story was not just about 4 students bullying a bus monitor. This story highlighted the school’s own challenges in addressing a culture that resulted in a person being bullied in public with not one objection from any of the bystanders.

The punishments were strong and fair, but there is more to be learned:

The Greece Central School district said that the four unnamed students will transfer to an alternative education program within the district to keep up their academic progress, and will be allowed to reapply to middle school after their complete the discipline. They released a long statement about the situation, but here’s the important part:

Rarely are school districts able to announce the exact discipline students receive for violations of the Code of Conduct. It was possible in this case because each of the students involved admitted to wrongdoing, accepted the recommended consequences and agreed to permit the district to publicly release the terms of their disciplinary action.

Click on the link to read my post, “The Kids Who Bullied Their School Bus Monitor Shouldn’t be Punished: Nelson“.

Finally an Anti-Bullying Resource that Works

June 26, 2012

I have just watched the second installment of the How to Unmake a Bully trilogy with my students. The second film focusses on the topical issue of Bystanders. It has always been difficult for teachers to motivate bystanders to act. The standard anti-bullying programs and resources don’t measure up to this brilliant piece of film-making.

It only took twelve days for teacher Mike Feurstein and a cast of elementary students from Glendaal Elementary School to shoot this movie. From the extraordinary shot of a child with cafeteria tray in hand being rejected from every table he tries to sit at to the chilling scene where a bystander gets the courage to speak out against a bully, this film speaks to children in a way other resources fail to.

I watched the film with my students and they were enthralled, They even gave it a standing ovation during the closing credits. This is a tribute to Mike’s well drawn characters and his use of comic and superhero references. The idea that children have the very same super powers they pretend to posses during role play situations is a stroke of genius.

Here is a movie that is perceptive, knowing, vibrant, beautifully constructed and shot and will get your students reflecting about their experiences, behaviour and future choices. Throw away your old tired resources and bring these films into your classroom.

(I suggest you show them the first film in the series, How to Unmake a Bully, before you show them Bystanders – How to UnMake A Bully, Volume 2 ).

The Fixation on Bus Monitor’s Donation Earnings is Extremely Disappointing

June 24, 2012

I can’t believe the rhetoric I have read about the money Karen Klein is earning from donations. So what? Generous people were so outraged by what they witnessed on that clip that they donated money. Get over it!

This story was never really about a bus monitor anyway. The. Klein case merely exemplified some very big bullying related issues – namely, the lack of respect many children have for adults, the lack of empathy for a person who is clearly being hurt, the influence of a group in regards to peer pressure and the passive behaviour from bystanders.

I am happy that Ms. Klein’s earnings mean she never has to step foot on that bus with those children again:

An elderly bus monitor who was taunted, picked on and threatened by a quartet of ruthless seventh-graders is likely going to retire on the $586,000 she has so far received in donations from concerned strangers who were outraged after viewing a video that captured her torment.

‘She is definitely surprised and overwhelmed and certainly thankful for everyone’s support, and it is nice knowing she is not alone,’ Karen Huff Klein’s daughter, Amanda Romig, told on Friday.

‘We never thought it was going to be that much, she didn’t think that much – then wow!’ Romig added, saying that her 68-year-old mother is not likely to return to work.

Click here on my post which discussed the need to punish the middle school children involved.

I hope the generous people who helped secure this donation together with the many other people who were shocked and angered by the clip, now focus their energies on ensuring that their children never treat people like those middle school children treated Ms. Klein.

Video of a Bus Monitor Being Bullied by Middle School Children Goes Viral

June 22, 2012

I’m sick of reading excuses for why a bus full of middle school children acted in a most deplorable way to their bus monitor. There are no excuses for such vile behavior. I don’t care what age you are, you have a responsibility to be a good citizen and decent person. It sickens me to see a pack bullying situation where a soft target is exposed and then tormented without any resistance whatsoever.

Explanations like this are both unhelpful and insensitive to poor bus monitor, Karen Klein:

When kids reach middle school, bullying becomes more common and more sophisticated, experts says.

“Middle school-age kids are sort of an age group that is notorious for an uptick in the intensity of bullying,” said Dr. Gail Saltz, a psychiatrist in New York and TODAY contributor.

During the middle school years, kids are facing intense peer pressure, the pack mentality is strong and kids feel a growing sense of independence – all while their moral compasses are still developing, she said.

“It’s a time when they’re figuring out who they are by sometimes crossing the line and breaking the rules,” Saltz says. “Their insecurity drives a lot of cliquishness and defining themselves as better by making someone else feel worse.”

Don’t even try to excuse this behaviour in any way based on the age of the perpetrators. This is a culture problem. The parents of these children need to do as much soul-searching as the children themselves.

I am saddened to hear about the families of the students getting death threats. What kind of response is that? What is the sense in dealing with bullying by continuing the chain of bullying? This is isn’t even about a bus full of children. This has even wider implications.

Middle school children worldwide should be put on notice. No more excuses. I don’t care how old you are. It’s time to grow up and treat others with respect!

Heroic Girl Stands Up to Bullies Only to be Labeled One Herself

June 20, 2012

One of the major stumbling blocks in the fight against bullying is the passive nature of bystanders. The last thing we want to see is children who would ordinarily stand up to bullies show a reluctance because of a lack of leadership and support from their school.

Here is a case where a girl confronted bullies who were bullying a disabled child, only to have her efforts undermined and used against her:

A Florida teen who decided to stand up against kids who were bullying a mentally disabled student on the bus is being called a bully herself.

Stormy Rich, 18, had been riding on a middle school bus because she had enough credits to start classes later in the day at Umatilla High School, the Daily Commercial reported, but she says she was shocked by how some of the middle school girls were treating a student with mental disabilities.

She thought she was doing the right thing in reporting bullying incidents she witnessed against a mentally-challenged middle school girl by a group of girls on morning bus rides to school.“I’m a very outspoken person,” Rich said. “I stick up for what I feel is right. In the school code of conduct handbook, it is clearly stated that bullying is a non-tolerable offense.”

Rich first complained to the bus driver but the bullying continued. She then complained to a high school official, who said he would contact the middle school, but nothing changed.

“I would sit on the bus every single day and see the bullying was still going on and nothing was being done,” Rich told the Daily Commercial. “It was aggravating,” she added.

The senior demanded the bullies stop, which worked for a while. She said they then began threatening her, even though she complained about this to school personnel on almost a daily basis for about two weeks. The mother and daughter even contacted police.

“Enough is enough,” Rich said in her written complaint. “Something should be done.”

What happened next stunned Stormy and her mother, Brenda. 

On May 4, they got a letter from the school saying her daughter was kicked off the middle school bus. A district school official said Rich displayed bullying behavior in her comments.

“She said what I did made me the bully, with me telling the kids that if they didn’t stop, and if the school didn’t do anything, that I would have to handle it,” Rich said. “To me, it was just going too far.”

According to Christopher Patton, communications officer for Lake County Schools, a courtesy had been extended to Rich to ride the middle school bus.

“Due to circumstances on the bus, the privileges were revoked,” he said.

Patton said he could not discuss the bullying complaints filed by Rich or her mother. He also could not say if any action was taken about those complaints.


Below is a trailer from the soon to be released film How to UnMake a Bystander, which couldn’t come at a better time.


Click on the link to read my post on 8 strategies for standing up to bullies.

Anti-Bullying Legislation Criticised for Allowing Bullying

November 6, 2011

You know you’ve messed up completely when the father of the child you’ve named your legislation after publicly denounces it.

The legislation, called “Matt’s Safe School Law,” was named after Matt Epling, an honor-roll student who killed himself at the age of 14 in 2002 after being assaulted by anti-gay bullies at his school.

The draft law, which passed the state Senate with 26 Republican votes against 11 Democratic votes and now advances to the lower house, includes language inserted before the vote that says the bill “does not prohibit a statement of a sincerely held belief or moral conviction” of a student or school worker.

Activists say that the provision gives bullies license to prey on other students — especially those who are gay, lesbian or transgender — and, at least as important, gives bystanders who should be trying to stop bullying an excuse not to intervene.

The real story here is not the amendment which undermines the whole essence of the legislation, but it is the value of the legislation to begin with.  The essence of this legislation is to “push each school district in the state to write their own anti-bullying policy.”  Australian schools have been mandated for some time to have their own anti-bullying policies.  These policies are wonderful at preventing schools from being targets of litigation.  They can simply point to their vague and fickle policy and ward off most lawsuits.  But when it comes to its ability to prevent bullying behaviours it has been completely useless.

Bullying legislation has never and will never have a marked impact on bullies and bullying behaviour.

In the name of Matt Epling and all others who have been subjected to malicious bouts of bullying, stop pretending to do something and actually devise something that actually works!

Valuable Advice for Bystanders of School Bullying

March 27, 2011

One of the underreported aspects of the Casey Heynes/Ritchard Gale bullying incident, was the role of the onlookers in inflaming the situation (or at least failing to intervene).  Not enough of the ensuing conversation focussed on the importance of intervening and diffusing a bullying situation.  Many media outlets omitted the fact that the child filming the incident was suspended, and few columnists even bothered to see it as an issue.

Whilst it is easy to blame bystanders of a bullying incident for their inaction, intervening in such a heated situation is quite a difficult assignment.  That’s why I was so thrilled to stumble on a wonderful article by Rosalind Wiseman, which detailes strategies that bystanders can employ:

Recently I’ve taken a hard look at the advice we give to kids who are being bullied and challenged all of us who work on this issue to do better. Now I want to question the common advice we give bystanders. This is critical for two reasons; we rarely admit the complex role bystanders play in bullying and I’ve never seen us publicly acknowledge that often the reason bystanders don’t come forward is because they don’t have confidence in the adults to do what’s right.

Being a bystander:

It’s not like any of us look forward to the opportunity of confronting a bully, as we saw in the recent Dateline special. Ironically, it can often be harder to confront a bully we’re close to than someone we don’t know or don’t like. And no matter how you feel about the bully or the target, it can be easy to stay silent because you don’t want the abuse directed at you.

But here are three inescapable facts:

  • Almost all of us will be in a situation at some point of our lives where we see someone bully someone else.
  • Bystanders often decide to get involved based on their feelings toward the bully and/or the target. If you like the bully then you are more likely to excuse the behavior. If you think the target is annoying, then you’ll more easily believe the target was asking for it. But a bystander’s decision to get involved should be based on the merits of the problem, not on their relationship to the people.
  • In that moment, we will have three choices. 1. Reinforce the abuse of power by supporting the bully; 2. Stay neutral — which looks like you’re either intimidated by the bully yourself or you support their actions; 3. Act in some way that confronts the bully’s abuse of power.

In the face of seeing someone bullied, here are some common reactions:

  • Deny it’s going on.
  • Distract yourself so it looks like you don’t know what’s going on. And if you don’t know then you have no obligation to do stop it.
  • Remove yourself from the situation.
  • Laugh to try to convince yourself that what’s going on isn’t serious.
  • Join in the bullying, because it’s safer to be on the side of the person with the most power.
  • Ignore it in the hope that it will go away.

What do you do if you are a bystander?

Even if you aren’t proud of how you handled the bullying when it occurred, it’s important to recognize how hard it is to know what to do in the moment. But that fact doesn’t mean it’s too late now to speak out. Especially if you are friends with the bully, reaching out to them is actually the ultimate sign of your friendship.

Supporting someone who’s been bullied.

Say, “I’m sorry that happened to you, do you want to tell me about it?”

Don’t tell them what they should have done or what you would have done. Listen and help them think through how to address the problem effectively. And if they ask you to back them up the next time it happens, ask them what that looks like to them. If it means upholding their right to be treated with dignity and not getting revenge on the bully, then do it.

Supporting someone who is being the bully.

In your own words say something like, “This is uncomfortable to talk about but yesterday when you sent that picture of Dave you know that really embarrassed him. And I know I laughed and I know he can be annoying but it’s still wrong. If you do it again I’m not going to back you up.”

Yes the bully is going to push back, make you uncomfortable, try to get you on their side but remember what happened and why you feel like the bully’s actions were wrong.

Why are bystanders so reluctant to come forward?

Let’s move away from the bystanders and focus on the adults. The prevailing explanation of why kids won’t come forward is because there’s a code of silence that forbids them. No one wants to be a snitch. While there’s some truth in that — I think just as powerful a reason for kids’ silence is because the adults haven’t created an environment where kids think reporting will make the problem better instead of worse. Yet, the most common advice we give to bystanders is to is tell an adult. Like it or not, the truth is it’s not good enough to tell kids to tell an adult.

Telling an adult won’t magically solve the problem. What far too many kids know and experience on a daily basis but we deny is that far too many adults are ill-equipped to respond effectively and often only cause the child to give up on adults entirely. Furthermore, the very way a lot of adults treat young people — in a condescending or dominant (i.e. “bullying”) manner — makes it impossible for children to have any confidence in our ability to be effective advocates.

While there are many effective counselors, even the suggestion to “talk to your counselor” may not be realistic. The child may have no idea who the counselor is — let alone a strong enough relationship with them to take this leap of faith. Recent budget cuts have led many school districts to cut back on their counselors or eliminate them completely. And it has always been the case that kids tend to form strong relationships with their teachers and coaches. It’s these people who bystanders will more likely tell what’s going on. Especially for a bystander that could easily think that since the bullying isn’t technically happening to them, reporting to a counselor is too extreme.

That’s why teachers need to know what to do. Instead of, “That person just needs to get a tougher skin”, “It can’t be that bad, can it?” they need to respond with “I’m really sorry this is happening. Thanks for telling me. I know it can be hard to come forward about things like this and I really respect the fact that you did. Let’s think about what we can do about it.”

Let’s be clear: beyond the peer pressure not to snitch and adolescent cynicism, adults matter. If our kids see us treat people with dignity, if we are outspoken about our respect for people who come forward, if we are honest with how scary reporting can be but assure them that we will be with them throughout the process, I guarantee our kids will find the courage to speak out.

Ms. Wiseman can be contacted through her Twitter account on:

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